A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 19
“Take them back to the tent,” I told Aaron quietly.
He nodded and hauled the two back to where we had begun the peace talks and forced them to sit facing each other once more. I glanced around the tent and spotted parchment and ink on another table. I set the ink well and two quills in the center of the meeting table and then slapped a piece of parchment down in front of each of the leaders. They jumped a bit and looked up at me. The Duke’s gaze held a mix of anger and disbelief while Taliya’s eyes held sadness and rage.
I stood tall above the two and starred down at them, my rage surpassing their own, and saw them quell just a bit. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. These two felt they had the right to sit around and send men to battle over a color? What self-righteous, self-centered, absolutely despicable creature could or would do that? I was completely disgusted and saw them both quell a bit more as my anger mounted.
Taking a deep breath, I spoke in a low growl of a voice.
“I would like you to keep a few facts in mind from now on. One, though your peoples seem content with you leading them, I do have the power to take your position from you and I will not hesitate to do so if you decide not to cooperate with me.”
I paused to glare darkly at each in turn.
“Two, I will be taking a personal interest in making sure that your peoples behave themselves from now on and I do not like having to do that. So, if I hear even a rumor about your peoples fighting in the future, I will have you ripped from power so fast your ancestors’ heads will spin.”
The Duke licked his lips nervously and Taliya’s eyes were wide with fear.
“Three, if you don’t straighten out personally, I will take your position from you and let your people chose someone else to take your place. You are the two most petty, self-centered, self-righteous, vain creatures I have ever had the displeasure of knowing and you are the absolute worst rulers to boot. If you don’t chose to change that, I will change it for you. Are we clear?”
Two terrified heads bobbed in silent fear and I leaned forward, placing my fists on the table as I kept my deadly glare leveled on the Duke and the Queen.
“Now, you are each going to make a new flag for your country and if you use the same symbol, fabric, color, or quill, and that starts another fight, I will murder the both of you right here and now. Understood?”
Again, two terrified heads bobbed. With a disgusted growl at the pair, I stood straight again.
“Get to work.”
Then I turned and left. Outside the tent, I sighed in relief and let my rigid stance relax. Almost done with those two and if I ever had to see them after this, I probably would murder them.
Late afternoon was coming on and I began walking through the camp. I wasn’t going to release the Seal just yet. I wanted absolutely everything squared away before I did that. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I heard footsteps behind me and paused. Turning, I saw that my father had followed me and I gave him a small smile.
“This isn’t exactly how I expected to see you again,” I said quietly.
“Nor I, you, daughter,” he replied with a chuckle. “My daughter, a Guardian.”
He shook his head in wonder.
“I should have expected no less, I suppose. You always were an exceptional child.”
“Sure, exceptional. We can call it that.”
He smiled gently and came towards me, putting an arm around my shoulder and began walking.
“Tell me everything. What happened after you left? How did you become a Guardian? And how did you get mixed up in all this mess?”
So I told him everything. I told him about leaving Teranan and meeting my Master. I told him about my training and what had happened to my Master that made me the Guardian of the Northern Gate. Then I told him about how Aaron had dragged me into this liaison mess.
“So tell me more about this MAGI, Aaron.”
“Oh no. It’s your turn,” I said, pausing and turning to face him. “How did you avoid the Seal? What’s happened since I left? And most importantly, how did you avoid the Seal?”
He chuckled and began walking again, clasping his hands behind his back in a familiar gesture.
“Let me see here. Since you left I have remained a lowly scholar in the Court of King Malyon. The only reason I’m here at all is because I am also the Court Recorder. I record all official business that happens concerning the King and now his daughter, the Queen. I must say, this adventure is truly one for the history books.”
He grinned and winked at me, making me laugh.
“As for the Seal, I am a scholar. I don’t carry a big fancy sword or even a dagger. I have no need of them. And I don’t wear any big gaudy pieces of jewelry or even a simple steel ring. I have no need of them and no position that requires I wear them. So when you cast the Seal, I saw everyone around me freezing where they stood and, I must admit, I was rather terrified. I didn’t know it was you. All I saw was that the liaison we had been chasing was coming back on a Dragon. That could only mean you had come for vengeance, or so I thought. I saw what happened from a distance and when you flew away I headed toward this camp to try and warn the Wizards, because I had realized why everyone but myself was frozen. However, you got here before I did. I came into the camp just in time to see you reveal your real face.”
He paused, turning to look me, and caressed the side of my face.
“Even more like your mother,” he said quietly. “But you still have my eyes.”
I smiled sadly and glanced down at my hands before looking back up at him.
“Um... I met her. Amahine. My mother.”
He froze for a moment, starring at me, and then slowly let his hand drop.
“Did you indeed?”
I frowned, sensing the sudden change in his demeanor.
“What is it?”
He looked at me, apparently not understanding my question.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I mentioned that I had met her and suddenly you pull away. Why?”
He crossed his arms and sighed.
“I suppose I’m just bracing for the worst.”
“And what’s the worst?”
He gave me a sad smile.
“That I’ll lose my daughter all over again.”
I shook my head, confused.
“Lose me again, how?”
“There are many things your mother’s people can teach you about who you are and what you can do. They have something to offer you that I never could. A family.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he held up a hand to forestall any comments on my part.
“No, don’t make promises you may not be able to keep. I am all the family you’ve ever known and that’s not much. I can’t be aunts and uncles and cousins. I can’t be siblings or nieces or nephews. Or a mother.”
His eyes went distant for an instant and I almost said something, but he continued before I could.
“I can only ever be your father. You haven’t ever experienced the joy and the love that a family can give. Once you do, you may never want to bother with just me again, and if you do still want me in your life, I won’t be enough. You’ll drift away from me and eventually disappear altogether, and there’s nothing that either of us can do about that.”
I shook my head.
“You’re talking nonsense.”
“No, I know what I’m talking about. I had a family until I had you, but it was different for me. I had grown up with them and never truly been close to any of them, so when they cast me out, all I needed was you. You were the reason I kept going and you were all the family I needed because you’re my daughter and I love you. But you never grew up with any of that. You have always needed people and it was the one thing I could never give you. Yes, you grew up thinking you were strong and a loner and didn’t need anyone, but the truth is you have always needed people, family, around you. You’re mother’s people can offer you that. I can’t. It will draw you in.”
I was shaking my head again.
“Even if it does, there’s no possible way I could or would forget about you. You were the only person who was always there for me.”
My father smiled sadly.
“Etti,” he whispered, and I could tell he was wishing he could say my true name. “It’s been years since we’ve seen each other. You didn’t write to me or visit me. There were so many ways you could have contacted me, even just to let me know that you were alive and well, but you never did. All these years, you’ve done so well on your own. You didn’t need me then and you don’t need me now. My usefulness in your life has long since expired.”
I blinked back tears and took a steadying breath.
“What are you saying? Are you trying to say goodbye?”
“I never got the chance to before,” he replied quietly.
I shook my head again.
“No. I may have thought I didn’t need you in my life then, but I did, and I made a mistake in never contacting you, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to. Even if you don’t feel like I need you in my life anymore, I know for a fact that I do. I want you in my life, father. Please, don’t leave now.”
He took a shaky breath and scooped me into a hug. I hugged him back fiercely. He stroked my hair and kissed the top of my head, just like he used to do when I was little. Then he pulled back, looking down at me.
“Very well. You know where to find me.”
I nodded, swallowing my tears. As I looked up at him, I could tell he didn’t believe me and I promised myself that I wouldn’t let it come to pass that way.
I pulled away.
“I should get back and see if the children have finished their assignment.”
That got a small laugh out of my father and we headed back to the tent in silence. I found, upon my return, that Lolani was standing outside it waiting for me. She ran lightly to my side.
“Mistress, they’ve finished.”
Lolani led me toward the tent and my father paused a few feet away. I looked back over my shoulder before I entered the tent and gave him a small smile. He returned it and then nodded toward the tent. I nodded once and turned my attention to the task at hand.
Time to wrap this nonsense up.
A/N: Two chapters in one day? I'm on a roll. :)